Small home, big prize from Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity

  • Janet Obermann’s small one-level home in Greenfield includes a kitchen and dining area. Obermann is a recipient of the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity Small Home Hero Award for her house. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The kitchen area of the small home, which was designed and built by Greenfield resident Janet Obermann with Unity Homes. Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity gave her a Small Home Hero Award for her house. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Greenfield resident Janet Obermann’s small house is not only under 500 square feet, it is energy-efficient and will allow her to age in place. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 6/28/2019 11:51:09 PM

GREENFIELD — It may only be 463 square feet, but it’s enough space for Janet Obermann to call home. In fact, it’s an award-winning home.

As part of its Big Enough Project, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity awarded two recipients with a Small Home Hero Award. The winners were Greenfield resident Obermann and the city of Northampton.

The award celebrates those that are making efforts to increase access to home ownership through policy advocacy, building, financing, design and zoning of affordable small homes, according to Megan McDonough, executive director of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Obermann said her small house has the features she wanted — it would be accessible, allow her to age in place and be as maintenance-free as possible.

By acting as her own general contractor, Obermann worked with Unity Homes to create a structure using CAD software that feeds a design into a machine and builds the structure indoors. It is then assembled on site.

“It’s built using low-volatile organic compounds (VOC), and dense-packed cellulite was blown into the walls, which were 2-by-6 timbers,” Obermann said. “The longest part of it was the planning.”

The planning took more than a year, and the house was panelized in two days.

Obermann also had help from her son, who is a carpenter, as well as family and friends to build and finance the house.

“We did a lot of the work ourselves, which was a tremendous amount of cost saving,” Obermann said. “We did the interior finishing except for the taping, mudding and sanding.”

Because of the way the house was constructed, Obermann’s estimated heating bill for the year will be $140, and another $40 for cooling.

Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity worked with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to create the award. They sought nominations and the winners were selected by a committee of local experts. Winners were given a certificate and a custom-made small birdhouse.

“We’re promoting homes that are affordable, efficient and promote home ownership,” McDonough said.

According to the case study done by Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity, the cost of the project was $127,000. Obermann said based on her research, her house only cost $167 per square foot.

She said she was proud to be nominated because her house is one of a few homes in Greenfield that is small, but it feels spacious because of the design she worked on with Unity Homes.

“It feels very gratifying. I did the research and hard physical work, and I learned a lot through the people I worked with as well,” Obermann said.

While living in a small home isn’t for everyone, she said it’s a good option for many aging people.

“For a lot of people, they’re in a larger, older home that requires a lot of money for heating and cooling,” Obermann said. “Some people get stuck in a rental cycle. Although at the front end it was fiscally challenging, the pay off is an energy-efficient home.”

She added that although people have to be willing to downsize, they don’t realize how much space they need.

“When you think about it, you live in one or two areas of your home, one of which is maybe the kitchen,” Obermann said. “Areas like dining rooms are only used once or twice a year, the same with guest bedrooms.”

Obermann’s experience provides an example of how a small, efficient home can be made, McDonough said.

“This is a good example of having more housing in a neighborhood,” McDonough said. “She was looking to build a house that was energy-efficient, allows her to age in place and be a part of the community.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

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